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What do fish labelling schemes really certify?

News Section Icon Published 7/13/2020

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Today (13th July), we have launched a new phase of our Rethink Fish campaign, targeting key global fish certification schemes.

A shocking truth

When shopping for higher welfare fish, many people turn to labelling schemes for guidance. Yet we have investigated the welfare standards of these schemes and exposed a shocking truth: fish certified by these schemes suffer. Many live miserable lives in overcrowded tanks and cages, and many more endure prolonged and painful deaths.

These schemes tend to focus on the sustainability of fish stocks and the environment, which is important work. However, currently, some have no welfare protections in place at all. Practices that are allowed by some of these schemes include:

  • Starving fish for up to 14 days before slaughter
  • Overcrowding fish into barren tanks or sea cages
  • Inflicting a slow, painful death without adequate stunning
  • Shooting wild seals and harming dolphins

Demanding action as a matter of urgency

This is simply not good enough, and so we are demanding that The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP), Friend of the Sea (FOS) and GLOBALG.A.P. introduce, or improve on, their welfare standards.

We commissioned a recent YouGov poll* and discovered that:

  • More than 70% of participants find practices including the shooting of wild animals, such as seals, to keep them out of their fish farms, unacceptable.
  • Over 70% find the starving of fish unnecessarily and the long and painful slaughter of fish – whether wild or farmed, unacceptable.
  • In addition, more than 70% of those questioned find it unacceptable that these well-known certification schemes allow such practices to occur.
  • Almost 80% of the participants think certification schemes should take steps to strengthen fish welfare standards or introduce them where they are not present in their requirements.

Abhorrent practices

“The recent polling results are clear: UK consumers find it unacceptable for such abhorrent practices to occur,” says Sophie Peutrill, our Fish Welfare Global Campaigns Manager. “So why is this still happening?”

“Fish suffer immensely on factory farms and when caught in the wild. On factory farms – in tanks and in nets – they are crowded by the thousands. During slaughter they are often fully conscious as they thrash about, fighting for their lives. They are intelligent, emotional animals that can suffer and feel pain. These certification schemes must improve their fish welfare standards, as a matter of urgency.”

Fish deserve a life worth living

We are calling for a host of welfare standards to be implemented or improved within these five schemes, including:

  • Allowing the fish enough space to carry out their natural behaviours
  • Reducing the number of days the fish are starved for, prior to slaughter
  • Fast and painless slaughter methods
  • The prohibition of killing wildlife such as seals and dolphins

“All farmed animals deserve to live a life worth living. And yet, fish really are the forgotten trillions. Not only that, they are the least protected group of farm animals,” says Dr. Krzysztof Wojtas, our Head of Fish Policy.

“Like other animals, fish are emotional, complex beings. They can suffer; they can feel pain. Yet they suffer in silence. Without a voice of their own, they need us to speak up on their behalf.”

Take action

Fish certification schemes have a huge part to play in sparing billions of fish from suffering. Please, email their CEOs now.

*All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2137 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 5th - 6th May 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).


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If you have any further questions regarding this, or any other matter, please get in touch with us at We aim to respond to all queries within two working days. However, due to the high volume of correspondence that we receive, it may occasionally take a little longer. Please do bear with us if this is the case. Alternatively, if your query is urgent, you can contact our Supporter Engagement Team on +44 (0)1483 521 953 (lines open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm).